(Warning: Before delving into my review of Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, I feel I need to issue a disclaimer to my younger readers: Although Liam Neeson plays a prominent role in the film, he tragically refrains from punching anything.)
I’ve got a confession to make (if I haven’t already made it at some point on the blog in years past), aside from Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona—and now Husbands and Wives, duh—I've never seen any post-1979 Woody Allen pictures. Yes, I confess; it’s all true. Film police, you can now take away my film geek credentials. I would attempt to apologize for this glaring oversight but I'm sure it would ring hollow. Really, there’s no excuse that could make this blind spot right.
And so, when choosing films for this blind spot series I knew I owed it to myself, as well as you, my loyal readers, to begin to make right what I had previously let go wrong for so long: I needed to watch a "newer" Allen film. Of course, I didn’t wanna choose just any old post-70s Allen film. If I chose, say, Anything Else and shat all over what I assume, and am pretty sure, is a not good movie, the whole affair would have been pointlessly mean-spirited and curmudgeonly. After all, part of the reason I kept from watching these later Allen films for so long was that I assumed they wouldn't live up to the earlier films I respect so much. I needed to be fair.
Yes, I opted instead for a critical consensus favorite. And so it was that I arrived at Husbands and Wives (douchey phrasing much?), a film widely regarded as Allen’s best picture since Manhattan. Additionally, Husbands and Wives seemed a pertinent choice in that it arrived in the midst of Allen’s early nineties legal trouble and subsequent separation from Mia Farrow, theretofore Allen's longest relationship. (I won’t go into the specifics of Allen's legal and personal troubles but it rhymes with: Poody Pallen pis pa…um…uh…pervert). Husbands and Wives was a transitional film, if not stylistically than certainly personally for Mr. Allen.
How does Husbands and Wives stack against the hype? Pretty well. And it certainly lit a fire under my ass to catch up on the rest of Allen's "later" output. Shot in a purposefully disorienting hand-held docu-style, the love fades-themed film grants viewers an, at times, uncomfortably intimate front seat to the inner workings of failed relationships. This movie may as well have been titled Hey Folks, Watch as My Relationship with Mia Farrow Deteriorates.
As we open on the prickly Woody and Mia as—fuck it; I'll forego character names for this piece. Anyway, Woody and Mia are met for dinner by longtime friends Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis (probably her best performance). As soon as they arrive, the guests blithely announce that they will be separating. Woody and Mia, understandably, are shocked that such a seemingly stable couple had, for so long, been living a lie and are now relieved to be separating. If these seemingly happy people couldn't wait to separate, what does it say about Woody and Mia's already tenuous relationship? As Tony Soprano has said, "Everything turns to shit."
Except...except, some things get better. Well, better ain't exactly the right word; but after some random dalliances, some folks drift apart, some opt to sacrifice excitement for stability, some are satisfied, others aren't. Not romantic, not touching; but certainly realistic.
This is one of the most brilliant films I've seen from Woody. However, knowing the backstory, knowing the reasons for Allen’s estrangement from Mia Farrow, it was hard not be grossed out by much of the film. After all, Husbands and Wives plays relatively close to the grosser aspects of real-life Woody. Playing a literature professor, Allen puts the creepy old man movies on his student Juliette Lewis. Now, even ignoring the fact that seeing Allen make out with the granddaughter-aged Lewis did little to keep my breakfast down, I need not hammer home to you readers, the parallels here to Woody's real life grossness. The movie is effective, but this kind of opening-a-window-into-the-creepy-personal-life-of-the-artist intimacy is a little too suffocating. Which I guess is the point.
To summarize: Movie = good; Woody = yuck.
[In lieu of a trailer, I'll leave you with The Ben Stiller Show parody of Husbands and Wives:]